Claiming Censorship and Discrimination, Artist Stands Up to... LEGO

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Famed artist Ai Weiwei is working on a series of portraits using LEGO. But the Danish toy company wants nothing to do with it.


Last year, Ai did a series of LEGO portraits, featuring a series of famous political activists and dissidents who had either been jailed or exiled.

The BBC Reports that Ai planned to do a similar exhibit for the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, but LEGO rejected the museum’s order.

According to Ai (via BBC ), the order was turned down because LEGO says its bricks cannot be used for art pieces or projects with “any political, religious, racist, obscene or defaming statements.”

But the question is: Why does LEGO even care what people do with its bricks? (Probably because it’s a large corporation that wants to make money! Which is nearly always the reason.)

“As a commercial entity, Lego produces and sells toys, movies and amusement parks attracting children across the globe,” Ai’s Instagram account states. “As a powerful corporation, Lego is an influential cultural and political actor in the globalized economy with questionable values. Lego’s refusal to sell its product to the artist is an act of censorship and discrimination.”


Ai appears to insinuate that the reason is that LEGO is planning on opening a Legoland in Shanghai and doesn’t want to ruffle Chinese government feathers. The artist has been an outspoken critic of corruption in China.


SCMP reports that the Chinese edition of the Global Times newspaper, which is published by Chinese Communist Party paper People’s Daily, lavished praise on LEGO for “refusing to be implicated in a political statement” and for having “good business sense.”


LEGO publicly explained why it refused the order, telling The Guardian, “As a company dedicated to delivering great creative play experiences to children, we refrain—on a global level—from actively engaging in or endorsing the use of Lego bricks in projects or contexts of a political agenda. This principle is not new.”

So creative experiences to children. Just don’t get political. Noted.


Earlier this year, the Danish company denied a Sandra Day O’Connor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan LEGO Ideas proposal on similar grounds (though, it later allowed a nondescript trio of women judges for Lego Ideas).

Ai is now now collecting LEGO donations from people around the world for a new art piece.


From the artist’s Instagram :

In response to Lego’s refusal and the overwhelming public response, Ai Weiwei has now decided to make a new work to defend freedom of speech and “political art”. Ai Weiwei Studio will announce the project description and Lego collection points in different cities. This is the first phase of the coming projects.


Today, Ai dumped some bricks he received in a red BMW.


Top photo: hxdbzxy | Shutterstock

To contact the author of this post, write to or find him on Twitter@Brian_Ashcraft.


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